"There is only one moment when a picture is there,
and an instant later it is gone forever. My memory
is full of those images that were lost."
- Margaret Bourke-White
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way and
lets the Tao speak for itself."
Tao te Ching - 45
This "stepping out of the way" is essential to the Contemplative Photographer as well. Through reflection you can become so attuned to the inherent energy of a moment or a place that allowing yourself to be spontaneous naturally follows. This is where, for me, the contemplative and the Taoist merge. By loosing yourself you will find an unexplored dimension of yourself.
In Taoism, this "inherent energy" is called Qi. It flows through everything and, like the flowing river, it follows its own path. So it is for anyone who picks up a camera...you will follow your own path and in your own time you will come to where you should be.Water is a constant theme and the supreme metaphor in Taoism. For this discussion, we can say that flowing water is "spontaneous", changing its path as it meets rocks, flowing around and over, never hindered. But as we know, given time, water will wear away the hardest stone. Only Man can build dams and stop the natural flow.
As photographers we have all experience "dams" in the creative process. Becoming more spontaneous, more willing to "seize the moment"and "go with the flow", we will break through even the strongest of those dams. When I travel to new places, the "dam" I often encounter is Time. When you have a rigid schedule, an unvarying itinerary, it prevents you from following the spontaneous moments that will, most certainly, occur on your trip. I've tried in recent years to do away with that element in my travels. I go to a place, settle in and explore. I trust that the landscape will direct me. I will know where to go next and when.
"...he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.
Nothing is impossible for him,
Because he has let go..."
Tao te Ching - 59
A Little Practice for the Week:
Practicing to be more spontaneous seems, to me, to be a contradiction of terms. So, rather than say "a little practice for the week" I will say "an opportunity for the week". I love to wander around in bookstores. Not with the intention of looking for anything in particular, but to, well, just see what presents itself. I don't contain myself to just the photography or travel books but will explore any aisle that catches my eye.
Wander around and see what might offer you the opportunity to be spontaneous...a cook book might inspire a trip to photograph the sights and colors of a farmer's market...an historical biography may get you thinking about returning to your roots; to a place in your past...a gardening book can have you seeking out botanical gardens to photograph the flowers and plants. When something rings clearly for you, when it pulls on your heart strings, be spontaneous...grab your camera and just go! You might be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.
Being present in the moment allows you to experience all the subtle nuances that are there. Wonderful photographs are waiting to be made...be still and listen for them.